Despite Campaign Pledge, President Obama Refuses to Use Word ‘Genocide’ When Describing Slaughter of Armenians

Apr 24, 2009 2:26pm

Despite a campaign promise that he would boldly use the word "genocide" as president when describing the Ottoman Empire’s slaughter of up to 1.5 million Armenians in the early part of the last century, President Obama deliberately avoided use of that word in his statement today on Armenian Remembrance Day.

"We’re profoundly disappointed," Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, told ABC News. "All the more so because his statements on this in his record  before he became president nailed it in terms the facts, the practical side and the moral dimension. He repeatedly talked about this during the campaign, and he was really harsh on President Bush, he said it was inexcusable that Bush refused to acknowledge that this was genocide."

Hamparian says President Obama "finds himself doing exactly the thing he so sharply criticized the Bush administration for, which is being euphemistic and evasive. It’s a bitter thing for Armenian-Americans who really believed him and really worked hard."

In a July 28, 2006, letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, President Obama protested her decision to recall U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John for using the G-word.

“That the invocation of a historical fact by a State Department employee could constitute an act of insubordination is deeply troubling,” then-Sen. Obama wrote. “When State Department instructions are such that an ambassador must engage in strained reasoning — or even an outright falsehood — that defies of common sense interpretation of events in order to follow orders, then it is time to revisit the State Department’s policy guidance on that issue."

Obama told Secretary Rice that the “occurrence of the Armenian genocide in 1915 is not an ‘allegation,’ a ‘personal opinion,’ or a ‘point of view.’ Supported by an overwhelmingly amount of historical evidence, it is a widely documented fact."

But Mr. Obama’s statement today does not use the word. He calls the genocide “one of the great atrocities of the 20th century” and mentions the “1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire.” He uses the Armenian term for “The Great Atrocity” — The Meds Yeghern -– and he calls for “a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.”

But he does not use the word. 

“He made it so clear throughout the campaign that that word mattered,” the ANCA’s Hamparian says.

That is indisputable. Mr. Obama said that “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that president.”

In a January 2008 letter to the Armenian Reporter, Mr. Obama said he shared “with Armenian Americans — so many of whom are descended from genocide survivors — a principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide. That starts with acknowledging the tragic instances of genocide in world history.”

He stated unequivocally that “as president I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

Earlier this month when President Obama visited the critical U.S. ally Turkey –- whose leaders forbid in law calling the genocide a “genocide” –- Mr. Obama refrained from using it

Standing with Turkish president Abdullah Gul, President Obama said that “my views are on the record and I have not changed views. What I have been very encouraged by is news that under President Gul’s leadership, you are seeing a series of negotiations, a process, in place between Armenia and Turkey to resolve a whole host of longstanding issues, including this one.”

Saying he wants to “be as encouraging as possible around those negotiations which are moving forward and could bear fruit very quickly very soon. And so as a consequence, what I want to do is not focus on my views right now but focus on the views of the Turkish and the Armenian people. If they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should encourage them.”

The Armenian National Committee of America at the time expressed disappointment, but held off on judging the president, waiting to see what he said today.

“We figured that he may have had one formula for visiting Turkey,” Hamparian said. He no longer believes that to be the case.

– jpt

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